Don’t get blogged down

Work­place blog­ging by tech-savvy em­ploy­ees can leave em­ploy­ers open to le­gal ac­tion un­less they have strict pro­ce­dures in place

The Herald Business - - Professional Brief -

WITH some sources claim­ing 80,000 new we­blogs – or sim­ply “blogs” – are be­ing cre­ated each day, it seems ev­ery­body has some­thing to say to the world and the tech­no­log­i­cal means to say it.

The blog is gen­er­ally ac­cepted to have come of age in the early days of the Iraq war when the on­line post­ings from cit­i­zens of Bagh­dad trumped the “embed­ded” war cor­re­spon­dents of the world’s press when it came to telling us what was re­ally go­ing on.

How­ever, for those look­ing to share their mus­ings on the work­place, a well-read blog can put the writer on a col­li­sion-course with an em­ployer.

Blog­ging f irst hit the em­ploy­ment law head­lines back in 2004, when US flight at­ten­dant Ellen Si­mon­etti was sus­pended and sub­se­quently dis­missed over her blog – a semi­fic­tional ac­count of life in the sky with Anony­mous Air­lines, which flew out of Quirksville. How­ever, she landed in hot wa­ter af­ter in­clud­ing pic­tures of her­self in the uni­form of her real-life em­ployer, Delta Air­lines.

Last year, closer to home, an em­ployee of Water­stone’s was sacked be­cause of the con­tents of his satir­i­cal blog, the Woola­maloo Gazette. Joe Gor­don’s en­tries would oc­ca­sion­ally men­tion his work, re­fer­ring to his em­ployer as “Bas­tard­stone’s” and call­ing his man­ager “Evil Boss”.

Some might ar­gue that call­ing a col­league a “numpty” or sim­i­lar in a blog en­try is no dif­fer­ent to mak­ing the same crit­i­cism in the pub on a Fri­day night af­ter work. How­ever, this is not a valid com­par­i­son. One is per­ma­nent in na­ture and reaches a global au­di­ence, while the other is tem­po­rary and to a se­lect few.

In chal­leng­ing the fair­ness of their

dis­missals, both Si­mon­etti and Gor­don ar­gued their em­ploy­ers had no pol­icy in place to deal with blog­ging ac­tiv­i­ties. This raises two im­por­tant ques­tions: whether blog­ging is per­mit­ted dur­ing work­ing hours, and whether the em­ployer can do any­thing about the ac­tual con­tent of a blog.

The for­mer should be dealt with in an “ac­cept­able use” pol­icy, along with per­sonal use of the In­ter­net and emails more gen­er­ally. De­spite the fact that mis­use of re­sources is three times more likely in those or­gan­i­sa­tions with no such pol­icy, it is es­ti­mated four in ten or­gan­i­sa­tions are still with­out.

At­tempt­ing to con­trol the con­tent of blogs will be far more con­tro­ver­sial, par­tic­u­larly for pub­lic sec­tor em­ploy­ers, which may be more eas­ily tar­geted with hu­man rights ar­gu­ments. How­ever, em­ploy­ers will, as a mat­ter of course, pro­vide for dis­ci­plinary sanc­tions where there has been a fail­ure – whether on or off duty – to meet the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s stan­dards of con­duct. Along­side ex­am­ples such as vi­o­lent con­duct or sub­stance abuse, you will in­creas­ingly find “bring­ing the com­pany into dis­re­pute” be­ing de­ployed to cover blog­ging.

Em­ploy­ers must avoid fu­el­ing any flames and en­sure their re­ac­tion to blog con­tent is pro­por­tion­ate to the ac­tual dam­age caused by the em­ployee’s con­duct. If the com­ments made are gen­eral and un­likely to be traced back to a par­tic­u­lar em­ployer by the pub­lic, sig­nif­i­cant ex­ter­nal harm seems doubt­ful. How­ever, if the com­pany is re­ferred to – or oth­er­wise iden­ti­fied – or if spe­cific in­di­vid­u­als are named and crit­i­cised, the sit­u­a­tion may jus­tify dis­ci­plinary ac­tion.

As tech­nol­ogy ad­vances, so must em­ploy­ment poli­cies and prac­tices. Com­pa­nies which al­ready have pol­icy pro­vi­sion for blog­ging may also wish to look at the grow­ing use of pod­casts – es­sen­tially blog­ging in au­dio for­mat – and up­date their poli­cies ac­cord­ingly. While the num­ber of reg­u­lar pod­cast­ers in the UK is es­ti­mated in the thou­sands at present, the ex­po­nen­tial growth of blog­ging per­haps points the way to fu­ture de­vel­op­ments in this area.

So, to blog or not to blog. That is the ques­tion for the 94% of UK work­ers who claim to be un­aware of their em­ploy­ers’ pol­icy on the is­sue. Just as there has been a rash of tri­bunal claims about ac­cess­ing pornog­ra­phy in the work­place, or ex­ces­sive use of emails, it seems only a mat­ter of time be­fore blog­ging pro­duces the same re­sult.

Al­ways re­mem­ber that fore­warned is fore­armed. In this case, com­mu­ni­cat­ing a pol­icy on what is or is not per­mit­ted con­duct will stand you in bet­ter stead should you need to de­fend your ac­tions in an em­ploy­ment tri­bunal.

Con­tent sup­plied by Jane Fraser, head of em­ploy­ment pen­sions and ben­e­fits at Ma­clay Murray & Spens.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.